Creating a Personal Mission Statement for Teaching History
by James L. Smith

According to Stephen Covey, author of
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a personal mission statement can serve as a manifesto that adds focus, direction, and a sense of purpose to our daily decisions.

An example of what an effective personal mission statement might look like can be found by examining the one that guided Mahatma Gandhi. Stephen Covey described Gandhi as one of his heroes and believed Gandhi's mission statement was one that changed the world.

Let the first act of every morning be to make the following resolve for the day:
I shall not fear anyone on Earth.
I shall fear only God.
I shall not bear ill will toward anyone.
I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.
I shall conquer untruth by truth. In resisting untruth, I shall endure all suffering.

After reading Covey’s book, I created my own mission statement for my work as a history teacher and found it quite useful in my teaching career. My mission statement clarified what I hoped to achieve in the classroom and helped me understand how I might improve my teaching. The mission statement served me so well that I asked the prospective teachers in my university-level class on teaching history to create one.

Students were asked to craft a mission statement that described what they wanted to accomplish as history teachers. I asked that their mission statements declare the general principles they wanted to bring into their teaching, statements that would explain their higher purpose for teaching history. Students were asked to think of their mission statements as personal constitutions, documents that would govern their actions as history teachers.

Students were told their mission statements might be one sentence or several pages. Their mission statements might take the form of a drawing, a cartoon, or a piece of music. It didn't matter. They were
personal mission statements.

I learned from reading the statements that the college students I taught possessed genuine idealism about teaching. Most students seemed to be entering the teaching profession for reasons of the heart. I asked them never to lose sight of their idealism. After all, idealism is essential to staying motivated in almost any profession.

I advised students to look at their mission statements often during their teaching careers. Although a mission statement might be revised, it should always serve as a reminder of the reasons for being a teacher.

For the record here's my personal mission statement for teaching history:

I will never abandon the belief that all students can learn.

I will encourage my students to succeed and never be made to think they cannot conquer challenging tasks. Like a coach who motivates players by telling them to “hold on to the ball” rather than “don’t fumble,” I will plant positive thoughts in the minds of my students. Student success is built on a foundation of affirmative thinking and a sense of self-worth. I must therefore do whatever I can to nurture these attributes in my students.

In pursuit of being a good teacher I will never cease to be a good student. I will continue to develop my own knowledge and skills. I will stay open to change and new ideas, especially the ideas of my students.

I will be a missionary for my subject. I will keep in mind that history can be the most humanizing of all subjects.

As a history teacher, I will commit myself to passing on humane ideas from the past, as well as the stories of inspiring achievements that show the best in human beings. I will use history to help students better understand the goodness in humanity and the unlimited potential of what they might achieve for themselves and their world.

I will use history to empower young people by encouraging them to think about important issues, to develop their own ideas, to present information in defense of their own ideas, and to use their ideas to make our world better.

I will avoid planting the seeds of negativity and cynicism in my students. In doing my part to help students grow into virtuous adults, I must keep in mind that negativity and cynicism are not virtues.

I will never forget the main reason I became a teacher — I wanted to make a difference. For me, success has always been defined by how much a person does to make the world a better place. I hope someday to say that, as a teacher, I was a success.

© 2009 James L. Smith